In British Columbia, which provides one of North America's last bastions of wilderness and biodiversity, a symbol of both brings out the best and worst of people. Wolves draw either awe or fury from equally passionate poles. Wolf advocates marvel at the beautiful and intelligent cousin of humankind's best friend, while wolf antagonists — mostly comprised of hunters and ranchers — see them as a threat to prized "game species" and sacred (domestic) cows.
This polemic reached a decadal zenith in recent months when two high-profile wolf issues were catapulted on the scene in B.C. Media exposure of a proposed wolf-killing derby in the northeast portion of the province fanned the flames.
Some hunters and ranchers were quick to defend the competition, sponsored by local businesses, which would dole out prize money to the hunters who could kill the largest and smallest wolf (not for food of course, but for trophy). Naturally, wolf advocates were appalled at the prospect of this morally and ethically repugnant "contest."
The second and prominent wolf-related event was the unveiling of the provincial government's "Draft Management Plan For The Grey Wolf In British Columbia."
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources sought input from the public for consideration before the plan is finalized. While several hundred citizens filed comments, Raincoast Conservation Foundation sought the critical observations of some very interested stakeholders who literally, as the saying goes, have skin in the game: the wolves themselves.
We reached out to Dr. Ken S. Lupus, who offered a unique retort to the absurdity he and his brethren easily detected in the province's plan. Below he offers the lupine view on how humans ought to be managed.
We model the structure of our plan after the B.C. government's "Draft Management Plan For The Grey Wolf In British Columbia." Although our plans are fundamentally different in how we decide to treat one another, we similarly assert that this document is premised on the best available scientific information. (Note: we consulted with Raincoast biologists and large carnivore experts Drs. Chris Darimont and Paul Paquet).
Notably, however, our management plan for humans draws upon an additional and important dimension that shapes policy in advanced civilizations: commonly held ethical values.
As the province did, we begin with some straightforward conservation context. Based on their rapidly increasing numbers and range, humans have been categorized as not at risk by the Lupine Committee of Categorizing Other Animals We Have Never Harmed. We note, however, on the other hand — and despite thousands of management plans by humans — global biodiversity is severely threatened as a result of human activities.
According to information shared by human sources, Homo sapiens play a very important role in maintaining so-called "game" populations, raising livestock among us wolves in formerly wild landscapes, and saving animals like caribou from rapid extinction due to resource extraction activities. On the other hand, some hunters, livestock groups and government-industrial complexes behind these ostensibly noble acts also comprise a significant threat to wolf safety and welfare. Accordingly, our plan must strike a balance to manage humans for conservation while minimizing conflicts with wolves.
We likewise adopt the same four management objectives stated by our simian colleagues, though with modified details. Topping this list is to ensure a self-sustaining population of humans throughout the species' range. We suppose that we will have to accept this inevitability. We suspect, however, that this spells trouble for us. If human behaviour remains unaltered — and caribou continue to dwindle and ranchers continue to believe that some god created landscapes with only their cows in mind — we expect a future of increasing conflicts.
Our plan's second objective is to provide for non-consumptive use of humans. Why not? No harm in setting up some eco-tourism by us wolves to partake in some human-watching. We need not look further than Yellowstone National Park, Thomson, Man. and Algonquin Park to know that humans can make a mint with sustainable wolf-based eco-tourism.
Unlike the province's anachronistic seat-of-the pants wolf management plan, however, which was designed by more wanton predators, we have no plans for so-called "consumptive" use of humans. Although humans would be easy pickings, we are just not known to do this. And really, why would anyone kill something for any other reason than to eat? For sport or for trophy? No thanks. Surely no advanced society would ever condone or endorse that sort of behaviour. Nor would any real hunter. That just leaves a bad taste in our mouths (and to put how awful that is in perspective, we often eat poop).
Perhaps the most important part of our "Draft Management Plan For Humans In British Columbia" is to minimize the threat to wolf safety caused by humans. Whereas wolves pose a very limited threat to humans, the opposite is certainly not true. For instance, the B.C. government says that approximately 1,200 of us wolves were killed deliberately in 2010 by hunters and trappers for sport, trophy or profit.
While human "wildlife managers" are quick to point out that we wolves can replenish our numbers, even amidst such persecution, our concern is the suffering imposed on us. Imagine the pain when the hot metal of bullets shreds our viscera (or worse, our limbs) or the agony inflicted when one of us is tormented by a leg-hold trap. Clearly, any management plan should address suffering among highly sentient animals.
Unfortunately, our plan to minimize threats to wolf safety has no details. Given all the technological advantages humans have acquired to use against wolves like high-powered rifles, helicopters, deadly poisons, traps, snares and explosive devices, predator calls to lure us and more, they simply have the upper hand.
Finally, and again mirroring the B.C. government's wolf management plan, our fourth objective is to control specific populations of humans where their activities are likely preventing the recovery of a species at risk (e.g., endangered populations of caribou). Whereas humans have hatched some vicious scapegoating campaigns and lethal plans for us as last ditch efforts to save caribou from logging or oil and gas extraction, we have yet to find successful methods to control these industries. We therefore appeal to our human friends within B.C. for help.
To conclude, we turn to history to muse about the future. It has taken decades to expunge, in part, the nonsense about wolves portrayed in human generated fairy tales (and not just children's stories, but also adult constructs such as the perversely and ironically named "North American Model of Wildlife Conservation"). How many more decades will it take to do the same in provincial management plans for wolves?
This article was co-authored with Raincoast Conservation Foundation science director Dr. Chris Darimont and Raincoast senior scientist Dr. Paul Paquet.